From the desk of Christopher Kimball
Dear Home Cook,
The day before the beginning of deer season is referred to as “Antler Eve,” a day even more celebrated than the day before Christmas. I installed myself in camp (a small cabin), got the fire going, and Tom showed up with the beer about an hour later. He mentioned that he saw two bald eagles across from the farm a few days before. Someone had jacked a deer at night and field dressed it, leaving a nice meal for the birds. According to Tom, one of the eagles stood guard high up in a tree while the other one fed.
The alarm sounded at 3:45 a.m. I got into my long johns, started the fire, made the coffee, mixed the pancake batter, fried the bacon, and started sorting out my gear: flashlights, compass, hats, gloves, knife, sandwiches, and mobile phone. Tom and Nate showed up and we tucked into breakfast and strong coffee. Nate dropped me at the farm around 5:30 a.m., and I headed up to the stand where I shot the 7-pointer the year before. On the way up into the woods, I startled a deer by an apple tree and then heard at least two more once I disappeared from the upper meadow into the birch and maple. The moon was bright so I didn’t need a flashlight and found the stand in just minutes. I climbed up in—it’s a double-wide—and I put the clip into my Browning 308. Just then, bark started falling on my head. Well, I thought, here’s another annoyed, territorial squirrel. I looked up and, low and behold, it was no squirrel but an angry 25-pound raccoon who was hanging onto the tree, just above my head, using its hind legs to spit bark on me. It turned its face downward, hissed, and made no attempt to move. Now, for those of you who think that raccoons are cuddly, let me just say that about the last thing you would want is a pissed-off member of this species landing on your head in total darkness, clawing your face into ground chuck. So, I took out the flashlight, shined it in its face, and made threatening noises. He moved up the tree and out onto a limb where he sat and continued his campaign of heckling.
Speaking of raccoons, Tom used to go coon hunting when he lived in Connecticut and, one night, he was out with a couple of friends and a hound. The coon headed into a beaver pond and the dog went after him. The coon lured the animal into deep water and then got on top of its head, pushing it underwater, trying to drown it. The dog owner went running into the water and rescued the dog, but it was a near thing. Sounds incredible? Well, there is a video of a similar situation on YouTube. (I will let you find it yourself, if you are so inclined, since it is not the sort of thing an animal lover, dog or raccoon, will want to watch.)
I soon finished up my stay in the stand and decided to march back up and over the ridge to the cabin to switch out ammunition. For some reason, the 150-grain 7mm shells I had bought the day before were not loading properly so I wanted to change them out for the 140-grain shells I usually use. I restarted the day and headed downwards, near the New York State line, into a valley owned by a neighbor. I came across a porcupine waddling slowly along through a stand of pines and then headed to the top of a ridge where there is a good view down the mountain, with plenty of good cover for deer. I walked a few more miles, up into a steep side-hill known as the “ledges” and sat for a bit. I headed back to the cabin for a quick lunch on the deck in bright sunlight and temperatures in the 50s.
That afternoon, I headed down to a knoll that looks down into a gut, a narrow, shallow ravine that is often used by deer to move along unnoticed. I startled a large doe just as I came over the top and sat for an hour but saw nothing more. I walked down to a stand by the edge of our summer pastures and spent the rest of the day in that spot, listening to a neighbor reprimanding his black Labrador, hearing bears calling across to one another from ridge to ridge, and watching our two Randall Linebacks graze down by the ponds. Just after 4:30 p.m., the sun slipped behind the far ridge in the west, and then twilight arrived, my favorite part of the day. The light seeped out of the meadows, the woods turned dark and impenetrable, and the forest came alive. Two small does slipstreamed into the upper pasture from deep cover. I headed back to camp. Click here for photos of Vermont Fall 2011.
Freshly showered, I drove down to Tom and Nancy’s and had an excellent game dinner with my daughter Caroline who had driven down from school—rabbit and partridge slow-cooked in Tom and Nancy’s own home-canned tomato sauce and served over pasta. Homemade bread and pumpkin bars filled out the menu. Nancy is the best gardener in town and has been feeding her family almost entirely from what she freezes and cans and what Tom shoots during the season. Locavores are nothing new!
The next day, I stopped at Sherman’s store and told the assembled locals about the raccoon. Everyone had a good laugh (at my expense, of course). Nobody was checking in a deer (the store is also a weigh-in spot for tagged deer) but it was early yet; the season still has a couple of weeks.
I leave you with a true story about Robert Frost, a noted Vermonter. One evening, Frost and Professor Thomas Reed Powell, a native Vermonter and distinguished professor at the Harvard Law School, were sitting around trying to outdo each other in a battle of wits. Powell, recalling that Frost had been born in San Francisco, and not Vermont, commented, “You know, Robert, you’re only a bastard Vermonter.” Frost countered, “Well, Reed, isn’t that better than being a Vermont bastard?”
Enjoy the cooler weather and the second best holiday after Antler Eve!
Founder and Editor
America’s Test Kitchen